Friday, October 23, 2009

Enjoyable Things: Zombieland Review

Throughout Zombieland, we are repeatedly told that there are rules to surviving in a world overrun by the undead. Of all of them, the final rule, No. 32: Enjoy The Little Things, is without a doubt the most important one. This light-hearted moral is emblematic of Zombieland since that is exactly what the film asks, nay demands of its audience.

Zombieland comes in the midst of a proliferation of zombies in mass culture, and yet manages to separate itself from the horde, er, crowd. Unlike almost every other zombie narrative out there, Zombieland features characters that take as much pleasure in dispatching the undead as we do in watching them do it. This slight change to the formula dramatically alters the atmosphere of the film, and more importantly its relation to all other zombie films.

Zombieland cribs its deeper meaning from the best of the genre, but then refracts it. The central conceit of the film is essentially a reiteration of the idea that in a zombie apocalypse scenario it isn't enough to just survive, you have to really live to retain your humanity. As any zombie fan worth their salt can tell you, this idea is one of the central concerns of the classic Dawn of the Dead, and has been revisited countless times in films like 28 Days Later.

Zombieland takes this idea, however, and applies it to zombie films as a genre.

In a world where even films like Shaun of the Dead take themselves seriously enough to say something (arguably/somewhat) profound by using zombies as a social metaphor, Zombieland features a "zombie kill of the week." See for yourself:

Zombieland explicitly and unabashedly engages in a discussion on film making. There is a cameo in the film that is so unexpected and amazing that I can't bring myself to spoil it here. Suffice to say a famous person shows up in the movie as themself, and there is an extended scene in which their career and the film industry as a whole are discussed.

The immediate and obvious ramification of this appearance and discussion is that the audience is reminded that they are watching a film, specifically a zombie film. This effect is further emphasized when two characters sit in a theatre and watch a certain legendary comedy film that stars the famous person. All of this drives home the point that Zombieland is a movie, and the scene's light-hearted conclusion ("You guys want some Purell?") displays that it does not take itself too seriously.

Just as other zombie films argue that in order to retain your humanity you need to do more than just survive, Zombieland argues that you need to laugh in order to live. The movie irreverently encourages you to "enjoy the little things" in a swarm of "serious" zombie apocalypse films. More than that, it uses zombies primarily as a method to achieve its goals of entertainment and (often gross) spectacle.

That Zombieland reaches its climax in an amusement park is the most overt and clever aspect of this design.

Even if star Jesse Eisenberg hadn't just recently made a name for himself with the theme-park centric Adventureland, it would be impossible not to draw a link between the title of Zombieland and the amusement park at the conclusion of the film. Additionally, the characters constantly refer to the world they inhabit as "zombie land." The poster for the movie makes both these associations tangible, as evidenced below.

All these factors give the title of the film a triple meaning that shows the intentions of the film makers: Zombieland is explicitly a film, it is the entire reality of the characters in the film, and it is also the amusement park in which the film concludes. In all these things it is a joyous series of rides meant to entertain us.

I mentioned in my review of Dead Snow that the film makers were "just having a good time and inviting us to have it with them." The same thing is going on here in Zombieland, the difference is that it's being done in a remarkably intelligent way. The film is in no way "high art," but it is very well thought out.

Zombieland is a lot of fun. It is an entertaining spectacle that is remarkably self-awareness and clever. You could potentially read a lot into it, but I'm not sure that's the point. It's gross, it's over the top, it's hilarious. It's one of the better and more unique zombie films to come along in recent memory.


  1. zombieland < evil dead 2. there is no debating this.

  2. Haha, well of course, I never meant to imply otherwise